Ruthven - the site of a hellish game of chess?
Alexander Stewart, Earl of Buchan and Ross known to subsequent generations as The Wolf of Badenoch led a violent and rapacious life. The sacking and burning of
Forres, Pluscarden Abbey and Elgin Cathedral by The Wolf and his and his "wild, wykked Hieland-men." And other bloody deeds are well documented. As is his siring of around 40 illegitimate offspring.
The evil nature of his terrifying reputation has been sustained through legend by his supposed pact with Auld Clootie or Auld Nick (as the Devil is more commonly known in these parts). The beliefs
in Alexander’s connections to the other world were evidenced, folk say, by the location of his moot, or court, where he would mediate local disputes and dispense summary justice through his right of Fossa and Furca (better known as the power of Pit and
Gallows). Alexander’s moots were held within a large Neolithic circle of standing stones known as the Standard Stones at the Rath of Kingussie, This was a site of ancient mystery and superstitious belief to the local population.
The power of Fossa and Furca was bestowed upon the Mormaers or local Barons in Moray by Malcolm Ceann Mor who was raised in exile in Northumbria following his father King
Duncan's death in battle with Macbeth's forces at Pitgavnie by Elgin,
On Malcolm's return he brought certain Northumbrian pagan ways to Scotland
in 1057, following his defeat of Macbeth, King of Alba. The right of Fossa and Furca dictated that, following a sentence of death, women should be drowned as their spirits would be taken by Rhen a water Goddess. Men were hung in the belief that their
spirits flew directly up to the great God Odin.
During one of his persistent disputes with the church over land rights, Alexander summoned the Bishop of Moray
to meet him within the Standard Stones and to bring the title deeds of the lands in question. The Bishop refused to meet and discuss church matters in a pagan arena as this was an ancient act that implied swearing an oath, but not to a Christian God.
At the time of Alexander’s death following a great storm that also killed his retainers at Ruthven Castle it was the common belief that the dark stranger who had
visited the Wolf that fateful night was none other than the Deil himself and that following a game of chess ,which was won by the strange, his victorious cry of checkmate! Summoned the storm and lightning bolts that struck with such devastating effect. Alexander’s
corpse was said to be unmarked but the hobnails of his boots had been blown out and lay scattered around the floor of the hall.
Even the Wolf’s funeral
procession from Ruthven to Dunkeld Cathedral was believed to be influenced by the Deil himself. As the funeral party headed south from Ruthven a violent storm arose with mighty winds, angry black clouds, and thunder in the air. As the party reached Drumochter
Pass the howling of the wind reached a crescendo.
The cart carrying the Wolf’s coffin was taken to the rear of the procession and the storm calmed almost immediately and Alexander Stewart, The Wolf of Badenoch travelled, in
peace, to his final resting place in Dunkeld Cathedral